By ERWIN FREED
The 2020 presidential election is dominating political discussion in the big-business press. Activists are being hit over the head with the false choice of supporting the Democratic Party or facing an onslaught of anti-worker, anti-queer, racist, and xenophobic legislation under Donald Trump. In reality, whoever wins the elections will remain the dutiful executor of the will of capital. Workers have no one with a plan to address their needs and concerns among the top candidates in this year’s presidential election.
Both economic and coronavirus statistics have been oscillating wildly since the pandemic and recession broke onto the world in February and March. Over 1 million people have died from COVID-19, and every country is in recession or depression. Forest fires, hurricanes, and mass power outages are reverberating shocks from yet another hottest year on record. None of the officers involved with the killings of Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, Elijah McClaine, Tony McDade, and most other victims of police violence have been arrested.
The capitalists, operating through their two-party political representatives, have no solutions to any of the pressing crises facing the working class. The richest billionaires, with the support from Democrats and Republicans, have increased their wealth during the greatest housing and jobs crisis in almost a century.
Meanwhile, workers remain politically unarmed. The subservient union leadership continues to maintain a strategy that guarantees defeat. They are refusing to build workers’ power against the employers. Right now, when there is an almost unprecedented dependence on food and logistics infrastructure, is the perfect time to strike for union recognition, fight two-tier wages, and raise political demands like no evictions during the pandemic.
Instead, after an initial upsurge of rank-and-file militancy in late spring and early summer, the unions have been taking hit after hit, leveraging their resources toward support for their class enemies in the bourgeois legislatures. While both major parties appear to be in a race to see who is the most out of touch with working people, labor leaders are trying to squash any independent initiatives for the working class.
A modest but notable exception to this trend was Dan Piper, Socialist Resurgence’s candidate for state representative in Connecticut’s District 1. In October, Piper spoke to a shop meeting of cafeteria workers at the University of Hartford. Piper was able to talk with the largely immigrant and female union members (Local 217, UNITE-HERE) about Socialist Resurgence’s revolutionary program, the need for a labor party, and how workers can really fight the pandemic.
Climate, imperialism, and the bipartisan consensus
On the burning issues of the day, Biden’s role is to shepherd working people into accepting the agenda of the ruling class. His main calling card has been that he has roots in working-class Pennsylvania and is “sympathetic” to the needs of workers—unlike the egotistical and super-wealthy Trump. And yet, in response to Trump’s heckling, Biden has gone to lengths to emphasize that he would not ban fracking, he would not support Medicare for All, and he rejects the policies of the so-called “left” in the Democratic Party.
Biden’s most “aggressive” climate policy of net-zero emissions by 2050 is roughly in line with the projections of some fossil fuel companies. For example, BP has announced that it plans to reduce fossil fuel production by 40% within the next 10 years and greatly expand investments in renewable energy. The New York Times quoted Parsley Energy president Matt Gallagher as remarking that Biden’s plan has “a lot of room … for oil and gas.” That article goes on to point out that the plan does not actually put forward a shift to 100% renewables by 2050 but rather would increase carbon sequestration and other procedures that will allow “industry to continue burning fossil fuels for decades.”
On U.S. foreign policy and intervention into other countries, Trump and Biden are relatively in line. At the same time, Trump’s method of unilateral decision-making has facilitated the weakening of U.S. imperialism in relation to its imperialist opponents in the geopolitical sphere. An important example is the administration’s attempts to end the Iran Deal. Ending U.S. participation in the JCPoA coalition in Iran created space for Chinese imperialism to make huge gains for investing in that country. This will likely also bring Chinese and French capital closer together, to the chagrin of U.S. businesses. At the same time, virtually every analyst sees a Biden administration continuing economic war against China, including trade-conflicts and anti-Chinese coalition building. Biden has been open on his desire to maintain troops in the Middle East and Africa to uphold U.S. influence.
After the largest mass protest movement in the United States in almost 50 years, both candidates remain explicitly pro-cop. The Democrats made sure that there was no question of their commitment to maintaining the prison and police industrial complexes, the “negotiations” with local activists aside. Biden and Harris represent total support by the Democrats for the police state. Choosing one of the most adamant critics of school busing and California’s former top cop as the leaders of their ticket sends a very obvious message to big business that the Dems have no desire to implement a “radical” criminal or racial justice strategy.
Democracy and class struggle
The Trump administration and its allies are steadily stoking a campaign to intimidate voters and limit voting rights, taking or threatening measures that are aimed mainly at disenfranchising Blacks, immigrants, and the poor. The administration is relying in many instances on voting restrictions that were enacted during Obama’s time in the White House. In North Carolina, for example, Republicans went to court to defend the survival of laws requiring that voters produce IDs at polling places and making it easier to reject mail-in ballots on technicalities.
Trump regularly issues warnings about “voter fraud,” especially in regard to mail-in ballots. In August, Trump admitted that he did not want to approve emergency funding for the Postal Service during the pandemic because Democrats were seeking to expand mail-in voting.
The Republican Party is planning on re-implementing its program of voter intimidation through armed “poll watchers,” known in the 1980s as the National Ballot Security Task Force. The Democratic National Committee brought a federal lawsuit against the Task Force in 1981, and it was banned by a U.S. District Court for 35 years, with the Republican-signed consent decree expiring in 2018. Now, workers and oppressed people should expect an increase in far-right “poll watchers,” including militia members and off-duty cops.
Trump’s refusal to agree to a “peaceful transition” of the presidency if he loses in November has even made members of the ruling class uneasy. Of course, capitalists are not concerned with democratic functioning so much as with giving the appearance of democracy. The 2000 and 2016 elections are powerful examples of capital’s willingness to eschew the basic principle of “one person one vote.” In 2000, the election (Gore versus Bush) was at least partially decided by the Republicans’ unleashing a couple of dozen violent operatives to disrupt the ballot recount in Miami-Dade County. And then the Supreme Court halted the recount, handing the election to Bush.
Trump “won” the last election although he fell over three million votes short of his main opponent. This year, with the 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, Trump is liable to have new help in tilting a contested election in his favor.
Some unions and mass movement groups are responding to Trump’s threats to the election process. The first labor fightback against Trumpian electoral maneuvers was from postal workers, who, on their own initiative, refused Postmaster General Louis Louis DeJoy’s orders to shut down sorting machines that would be critical to the timely distribution of mail-in ballots.
Now, central labor councils in both Rochester and Seattle are calling for general strikes in their cities if the administration attempts to subvert democracy in the courts or in the streets. Strikes in defense of the electoral process will give workers the concrete experience of using their economic power for political purposes, quickly smashing the illusion that Democrats are the real defenders of democratic rights.
Tentative demonstrations have been called nationwide to protest any attempt to distort or nullify the popular vote in the presidential election. Unlike in 2000, the Democratic Party and union bureaucracies may be forced by the depths of the outrage and the pressure of rank-and-file action to endorse pro-democracy mobilizations in the case of a contested election. These sorts of mobilizations, if they achieve any size and strength, would pose a great risk to capital.
Following the five months of daily protests against police brutality and racism, a lot of that energy has now been absorbed into the election. Nevertheless, despite the pressure by the Democrats to “stop Trump,” the two major parties and their top candidates have been discredited in the eyes of millions of working and oppressed people. If the projections are accurate that this year will have the highest voter turnout in U.S. history, participation will still be at only around 65% of registered voters.
Of course, this number does not include people who have been disenfranchised due to racist and bureaucratic mechanisms. According to the Sentencing Project, as of 2016, some 6.1 million convicted felons were prohibited from voting in the United States. We note that in ongoing protests, demands have been raised to extend the franchise to undocumented people and to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated populations, and to protect the civil rights of the Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities.
Bourgeois third parties
Growing dissatisfaction with the two major parties and their candidates—and especially the squashing of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid—has caused sections of the middle class, and some celebrities and left-wing union bureaucrats, to offer support to several so-called alternative parties.
The most well known of these formations is the Green Party of the United States. GPUS is running on a program of class conciliation, which fundamentally rejects “state ownership of the means of production.” Presidential candidate Howie Hawkins, despite being known as a “socialist,” calls for solving the climate crisis through the capitalist state’s “buying” a controlling share in fossil-fuel and energy companies. This is in direct contradiction to the socialist program of nationalizing the energy infrastructure and putting it under workers’ and community control to convert it to 100% sustainable production on an emergency timetable.
While the Greens complain that they were the first to concoct the “Green New Deal” before being co-opted by the Democrats, the reality is that they put forward a patchwork “solution” to the climate crisis that seeks to reform the worst excesses of capitalism—when the entire system needs to be replaced.
Lesser known, and likely even less cohesive in the medium term, is the Movement for a People’s Party. The MPP was formed following Bernie Sanders’ defeat in 2016 on the initiative of some of his campaign staffers. Its leadership is composed of non-profit directors, union staffers, media personalities, and even current Democrats like Nina Turner. The MPP’s program is in line with that of Sanders, AOC, and other “left” Democrats. The “People’s Party” they have in mind will ultimately serve as a release valve to vent off frustration among a certain section of the Democrats’ middle-class supporters while focusing its efforts toward applying pressure on the Democratic Party itself.
The multi-class nature of the Green Party and Movement for a People’s Party in composition and program allow both to be outflanked by the far better financed Democrats.
Build the movement; for independent political action
The Democratic Party is using its apparatus to defang and derail the mass protest movement that has been shaking the country. Working and oppressed people are being told to leave the streets and enter the polling booths. To do so would be a critical mistake. Mass action, spurred by united-front coalitions and democratic decision-making and aimed at encouraging direct involvement by the working class and its allies, is the most effective tool we have to achieve fundamental change. We need to stay in the streets!
Ultimately, the most burning task facing the U.S. working class is to form its own independent party—not only for electoral contests but to organize and lead struggles in the streets, workplaces, and campuses. Such a party will be built through the process of rank-and-file workers’ rejecting conciliation with the employers and ruling-class politicians and creating their own organizing centers based on the shop floor and in the union halls. This will require forging a new militant leadership in the labor movement, consistent democratic functioning and rank-and-file control, and a fighting program to meet the capitalist crises.
In the current elections, since voting for the Democrats and Republicans offers no political representation for working people and oppressed, Socialist Resurgence recommends writing in the martyrs George Floyd and Breonna Taylor for president and vice president. With that symbolic move, we can help bring the movement against racism and police brutality and for police abolition into the discussion around the elections.
Top photo: Jim Watson and Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images